Profound. Moving. Emotional.
Wait — is this really the review for a movie that features the brutal sport of mixed martial arts?
Some who may have ignored Warrior in fear of experiencing Not Another Fight Movie might be pleasantly surprised to find something epically more complex and deep.
Two brothers, separated in their youth by their father’s alcoholism, train and compete in a grueling MMA Grand Prix while battling personal demons and hardships.
Tommy Riordan (Tom Hardy) returns home to his once-abusive and now-sober father Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte). The father and son combo has a history — together, they dominated as a wrestling coach and prodigy team, but those days are long gone.
Both have new goals in mind: Riordan hopes to train for Sparta, an MMA event with a $5-million purse while Conlon sees an opportunity to restart his relationship with his estranged son.
Forgiveness, however, is hard to find as Riordan makes it clear that it’s all about business.
Seeing an opportunity to reconcile with his other son, Conlon meets with Brendan (Joel Edgerton) in hopes of bringing the family back together.
Brendan, a retired UFC fighter turned high school physics teacher, fights for money on the side to pay the mortgage. When his work superiors find out he’s been doing with his spare time, he’s suspended without pay. The circumstances lead him to enter Sparta for a chance at the prize.
The premise may seem incredibly cliche to the cynical, but the precise execution, well-written dialogue, and memorable acting work together to create a brutal and compelling drama where family members, connected by blood, reopen old wounds and then cut much deeper.
The characters are presented at face value, but things are expertly handled by a film-team that must have had a deep vested interest in making a movie that resonates. The intimate way things are filmed — nothing is rushed or glossed over. From the fight scenes to the conflicted drama, each scene is given its due, and so are the actors.
Nolte is stirring as the gravely-voiced Conlon patriarch who has turned a new leaf. Conlon’s rehab now requires him to ironically show restraint in situations when others would have resorted to violence.
As the brothers, Hardy and Edgerton sport similar accents and features, and chemistry is explosive, especially when Brendan tells his younger sibling that he has ultimately forgiven him. It’s a flinch-inducing moment that happens as quick as a jab to the eye, and like a submission hold bending a bone just about to break, there’s a sense of remarkable violence in the way it’s received.
It’s love that breaks walls and makes us vulnerable.
In fight movies, the tournament is usually a means to an end — winning the championship rarely seems to be the actual and ultimate goal — it’s oftentimes a metaphor or a symbol or even a badge that a fighter receives once they’ve finally gotten it; they’ve finally become the person they were meant to be.
Personal issues, relationships, battle scars — these must be overcome, dealt with, reconciled. Meat must be punched. Stairs must be climbed. In the end — a belt gets wrapped around their waist, hands raised, and crowds jump into the ring to congratulate and hoist up the new people’s champion.
In Warrior, the stakes are raised. Human relationships are examined through physical battles because communing with others can be difficult, full of conflict, and damaging.
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor
Screenplay by: Gavin O’Connor, Cliff Dorfman, and Anthony Tambakis
Starring: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo, Kevin Dunno, and Maximiliano Hernandez